Thank you Herb!

Every business magazine and business student knows something about Southwest Airlines (SWA). My favorite business leader, Herb Kelleher, who was so significant in making SWA the admired company it is today has retired as Chairman of the Board. I have held off talking about this wonderful company because I was certain that I would only be redundant. I choose to add my two-cents today because airline customers are recently being charged extra by other airlines for things like, baggage of all things! Why are airlines like American resorting to these tactics? Just look at the price signs on the local gasoline stations. The same rising costs have created a crisis at airliner fuel stations. Most airlines have not prepared for these huge rises in jet fuel and are now making their customers pay the price for their inept management. Why hasn't SWA followed suit?

Under Mr. Kelleher's direction, SWA began storing fuel as far back as their beginning years to meet just such a fuel crunch as being experienced today. What began as a small Texas airline, Southwest has grown to become one of the largest airlines in the U.S. Today, Southwest Airlines flies over 104 million passengers a year to 64 cities all across the country, and they do it more than 3,400 times a day. What makes SWA unique?

More than 36 years ago, Rollin King and Herb Kelleher got together and decided to start a different kind of airline. They began with one simple notion: If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline. And you know what? They were right.

For those of you who are not all that familiar with the SWA roots, here is a short synopsis:

Founded in 1971, Southwest Airlines began to establish a consistent pattern of deviating from convention. In 1978 the airline industry was deregulated and 120 plus airlines have gone bankrupt since. Why, in this difficult environment, has SWA continued to grow and thrive? Notably, SWA is the only airline to continuously show a profit every year since 1973. How has SWA managed to increase its traffic by as much as 139%? Here are some facts that might help to understand how SWA has achieved this incredible record:

* The company consistently leads the industry in low fares and dominates the short haul market with an average of 60% market share.
* The company serves over 2400 customers per employee annually - making SWA employees by far the most productive workforce in the airline industry.
* Employee turnover averages 6.4% - again one of the best records in the industry.
* SWA is consistently ranked in the top 100 of the best U.S. companies to work for.
* They have never been forced to lay off employees regardless of external market factors such as recession or high fuel prices.
*They have the best record for baggage handling in the industry.
* They have the best on-time performance record.
* Fewest customer complaints.
* Youngest fleet of airplanes, and the best safety record!

If the above does not convince you that SWA is doing something unique, consider they can turn around an airplane at the gate in 15 minutes. Thats a full 10 minutes faster than their nearest competitor. This allows them to operate with 35 fewer aircraft.

The SWA culture is as unique as its business strategy. The differences begin in the hiring process - they believe in "hiring for attitude and training for skills". You must have a sense of humor to work at SWA, and they insist on having "fun" at work. More importantly, all employees are told to be themselves and treat other employees as "best friends" (Great internal customer service!). Finally, employees are told to establish their own standard of professionalism. They are encouraged to think entrepreneurially and act quickly even if it means disregarding the company bureaucracy. Southwest empowers their employees and expects positive results by eliminating inflexible rules.

Although Herb Kelleher has retired, the high standards and positive attitude he instilled while Chairman and father-figure to all SWA employees carries on. Many airlines have tried to copy Southwest’s business model, and the culture of Southwest is admired and emulated by corporations and organizations in all walks of life. Always the innovator, Southwest pioneered Senior Fares, a same-day air freight delivery service, and Ticketless Travel. Southwest led the way with the first airline web page:southwest.com; DING! the first-ever direct link to customer’s computer desktops that delivers live updates on the hottest deals.

Let me leave you with this quote from the SWA Website:
As you can see, we've been busy these past 36+ years. And we promise that the future will be just as fun-filled and exciting as the last. We've accomplished quite a bit, and along the way we've earned a title no other airline in the industry can claim: the leading low-fare, high-frequency, point-to-point carrier in America. We are proud of our accomplishments, and it just goes to show that time really does fly when you're having fun!


Thanks Herb. I will remain a loyal Southwest Airlines customer because of the great customer service example you and your company pioneered.

DJC

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